Friday, December 7, 2007

Studio 58's Richard III, or the School of Shouting Shakespeare

Last night's show was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some good performances, especially by Bob Frazer in the lead role, whose delivery and physical carriage were spot-on. Also strong were Gaelan Beatty as Buckingham, Meghan Kinsley as Tyrrel, Luke Camilleri as Clarence. Jessica Hill wasn't bad as Queen Elizabeth. But there were an awful lot of weak performances, too, especially David Villegas' Richmond and Georgina Beaty's Duchess of York. There was an awful lot of shouting substituted for palpable rage and a lot of the actors didn't seem to have fully digested the sense of the lines they were spewing out. To be fair, this was a student production (Frazer was the only pro actor in the show), but they're still charging admission and I've been to other student shows--with much smaller budgets and with actors who had less formal training--that were much stronger. If it hadn't been for Frazer, the show would've been a wash. Some of the scenes that didn't involve him were giggle-inducingly bad. But his performance made it worth seeing, nonetheless.

There were also some questionable directorial decisions, like a choreographed Madonnaesque dance scene and the odd anachronistic bit (e.g. Ricky Duke of York rockin' out to Skee-lo's "I wish I was a little bit taller") that seemed thrown in as sops (look, Shakespeare can be cool!). The costume (consisting of a lot of leather, mainly) and makeup (exaggeratedly stylized) also added little but distraction, giving the impression that the characters had all just escaped from a rave. The stage and set design were effectively minimalistic, but lighting could have been used to better effect, particularly, as Rachel noted, in Richard's monologues.

I wonder about the value of theatre schools. I've known quite a few good actors (I'm related to quite a few, actually), but not many of them went to theatre schools. And the shoestring budget mainstages put on by the King's University Theatre Society were consistently as good, or better, than the much more lavish, professionally directed shows put on across campus by the Dalhousie Theatre department. Maybe it's that theatre programs attract people who want to be actors, more than people who already are. Bob Frazer is a graduate of the Langara program and as I said a couple of the students did stand out, so obviously this isn't exclusively the case, but still, it's hardly a good argument for the value of the institutional study of the art.

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